Broadway Housing Communities is a non-profit housing developer committed to providing innovative permanent supportive housing for individuals and families in the greatest need. Located in the West Harlem and Washington Heights communities in New York City, a hallmark of their model is their successful integration of community-based arts and culture with supportive housing services, and high-quality early childhood education.

Broadway Housing’s newest endeavor, situated in Harlem’s historic Sugar Hill district, will blend together 124 units of affordable housing, an expansive early childhood education center, green initiatives, and pervasive cultural arts opportunities into a model of urban community revitalization. The new development will house ArtPlace’s 2012 top-ranked award recipient, the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and many other elected officials joined Broadway Housing Communities for the development’s groundbreaking ceremony on July 19, 2012.

ArtPlace caught up with Ellen Baxter, Founder & Executive Director of Broadway Housing Communities, to talk with her about the project:

ARTPLACE: What is your elevator pitch when you describe your project to people?

BAXTER: The Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling is a vivid example of what happens when arts, education and affordable housing come together in a planned and integrated fashion. The museum will serve as a cultural anchor for the community – a thriving space for children and families to share the pleasure of personal expression through art making and storytelling, all grounded in Sugar Hill’s rich history and culture.

We have set ourselves the challenge of changing the social and economic prospects for the community by positively engaging the children, adults and neighborhood institutions that are responsible for the community’s future. We know from our other integrated affordable housing sites that this model works, and our scaled-up ambitions for the Sugar Hill development are only outdistanced by the prospects for success.

ARTPLACE: How do you expect to increase vibrancy in the place you are working?

BAXTER: Harlem’s historic Sugar Hill district is currently characterized by a high poverty rate, overcrowded housing, escalating housing costs and low educational performance, yet these realities stand in sharp contrast to the remarkable cultural heritage of Sugar Hill. This community is one of New York City’s most architecturally and historically robust neighborhoods. During the 1920’s, it was an epicenter of the Harlem Renaissance where cultural, intellectual and artistic life flourished. Broadway Housing has approached this project with a passionate regard for this vibrant history. We are seeking to restore the sense of community vitality by creating a creative space for children and families to reflect on the cultural contributions of the past while encouraging them to create and share their own artistic imaginings to make Sugar Hill a better place.

I think it’s easy to underestimate the importance of the arts in a community, but there’s a warm, unmistakable energy that comes from people living together, working together, creating together and helping each other. Our consciousness of the value of the arts has enriched the Washington Heights and West Harlem communities we serve for almost 30 years. Arts infusion creates pride, promotes creativity and intellectual stimulation, and enhances the life experience of the whole community. We see this effect every day in our work, and it reaffirms and invigorates our efforts.